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Thursday Night Football preview: What to expect fantasy-wise from Bengals at Browns

Fantasy preview of Thursday Night Football.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

This week’s Thursday Night Football game is an AFC North division battle between the 0-1 Cincinnati Bengals and 0-1 Cleveland Browns. Here’s what to expect fantasy-wise from both teams.

Cincinnati Bengals

Joe Burrow’s rushing floor was on full display in Week 1 and against the Browns’ underwhelming linebacking corps, count on it again in Week 2. Unfortunate for Burrow but fortunate for fantasy managers, the Bengals’ O-Line is looking like a JV squad which puts the onus on Burrow to use his wheels more than even he may want to. He’s a QB2 with easy QB1 upside.

Adding to Burrow’s fantasy ceiling, Cincinnati’s pass catchers are a deep and talented group. A.J. Green was on a snap count but he still lead the team in targets. Seeing a rookie quarterback immediately know where his bread is buttered is a good sign. Green is a flex option with WR2 upside.

The No. 2 WR, for fantasy purposes, here is interesting. Downfield receiver John Ross had the team lead in snaps last week but he may have to contend with CB Denzel Ward from time to time. Primary slot receiver, Tyler Boyd, who at one point was looking like a better fantasy pick than A.J. Green, won’t have to face Ward’s coverage much though as he sticks to lining up on the inside. Consider Ross a boom/bust flex option with better matchups ahead. Meanwhile, Boyd is a decent PPR flex.

Sadly, the remaining receivers — including fun-time jump-ball receiver Auden Tate — do not appear to be fantasy relevant. Fantasy managers would do well to look Tate’s way, over rookie Tee Higgins, if a starter were to miss time.

Leaving aside that the talent-level is nowhere near comparable, tight end C.J. Uzomah may have a decent matchup on his hands after what Pro Bowler Mark Andrews hung on the Browns last week (5 catches, 58 yards, and 2 touchdowns). In Week 1, Uzomah was the unquestioned TE1 for the Bengals, garnering a 72% snap share and was tied for second on the team in targets. C.J. Uzomah is a decent tight end streaming option in Week 2.

Joe Mixon was not given the passing game workload that we were told he’d be in for in Week 1, as he was out-targeted by backup Gio Bernard five to two. Consider Mixon to have back-end RB1 status. Bernard, meanwhile, can’t be counted on as a reliable fantasy asset.

Cleveland Browns

Baker Mayfield is still trying to get past seeing ghosts. The Bengals’ pass rush won’t get after him much this week though, which boosts his fantasy prospects. That Mayfield’s pass catcher cupboard is stocked full of talented play-makers is what really gives the third-year quarterback access to mid-range QB2 usage.

Skittish fantasy managers are likely to be gun shy and full of regret if they took Odell Beckham Jr. at his ADP in drafts. Savvy managers will note that his lacking box score in Week 1 came against the Ravens. Digging deeper, per Next Gen Stats, Beckham Jr. racked up a whopping 37.54% of the team’s Air Yards share, earned a solid average of 3.4 yards of separation between him and the nearest defender when passes reached him, and his target total (10) was nearly double that of the second-most-targeted Browns’ pass catcher (6) in Week 1. It’s worth noting that when facing the Bengals in Week 1 the Chargers had two pass catchers post receptions of 30+ yards and Mike Williams, the team’s designated deep threat — a role Beckham owns rights to — lead the team in targets. Some of Williams’ target total can be attributed to Tyrod Taylor’s downfield nature but the fact that Taylor still dropped bombs to Williams while Williams was playing hurt is equally relevant — Williams was getting open against the Bengals’ ho-hum secondary and his quarterback tried to take advantage of it. Odell Beckham Jr. is a WR2 this week with long-TD scoring upside.

Jarvis Landry should steadily remain on the flex-WR2 spectrum throughout 2020, despite his Week 1 performance. The loss of tight end David Njoku, who had a great Week 1, likely funnels more safety blanket targets Landry’s way as well. He’s a fine high-end flex/low-end WR2 start this week.

WR KhaDarel Hodge appears to have hopped Rashard Higgins for the team’s No. 3 WR receiver role. It’s unlikely to be a reliably fruitful one though.

David Njoku was placed on IR (and will be eligible to return after the next three games are played). Until then, Week 1 flop Austin Hooper must contend with stud rookie TE Harrison Bryant. Hooper stayed at QB Baker Mayfield’s house for weeks this summer to put in reps and establish familiarity and rapport. The results weren’t evident in Week 1 though. Meanwhile, Bryant garnered “top performing rookie” praise at training camp by his teammates. If putting money on the line, the veteran Hooper is the one to roll with but a possible tight end platoon is insight in Cleveland. Hooper is a TE2 option with target-based upside. Bryant is not usable for fantasy purposes but might do enough to limit Hooper’s fantasy ceiling in the short term.

The Chargers had a rushing fest against the Bengals’ clown-show of a front-seven, having two backs rushing for 60 or more yards. Last week Cleveland’s lead back, Nick Chubb, was game-scripted out of a heavy workload in favor of stellar pass catching back Kareem Hunt as the Browns tried to play catch-up with the Ravens. Cleveland should have no issue pulverizing the Bengals’ defensive front early and often. Nick Chubb is the RB7 this week. Meanwhile, Hunt should still see four to six targets and an equal amount of carries. Given the matchup, we can bill him as a low-end RB2/flex option this week.